Shakespeare's story of tragic young love is set to the music of Radiohead for WA Ballet's contribution to the MoveMe festival.
Photo: Sergey Pevnev
WA Ballet's spring season is a clever mix of two presentations, traditional favourite Romeo and Juliet, and the contemporary Radio and Juliet, a ballet set to the music of Radiohead.
Radio and Juliet is part of MoveMe, a new week-long dance festival that celebrates the best in WA dance. Call me crazy, but I would have expected WA Ballet, the biggest dance representative of the state, beacon of excellence and guiding hand to the smaller companies within Perth and the wider state, to produce and present a new work for this new festival. Sadly they didn’t. Instead they have rehashed this piece from 2014, from the customary contemporary season staged at The Quarry Amphitheatre every summer.
Shakespeare’s relatively straightforward story of young love is turned on its head, and instead the audience is asked ‘what would happen should Juliet chose to live?'
The premise is breathtaking, as the opportunity for story development and twists and turns seems immense, yet dispiritingly we see not what happens after this extraordinary decision, but flashbacks of the pivotal moments of the original fable – the initial meeting, fight scenes, the wedding, the death. Questions the choreographer asks us to form thus remain unanswered.
Choreographer Edward Clug has taken this work to companies round the globe, and in the initial WA season, trained and rehearsed with the dancers incessantly, forcing intent and reason into every step and action. For this season, Clug was absent.
Pairing contemporary dance with Radiohead is in theory, the smartest and most logical move on the planet. Thirty years of song writing, nine studio albums and more than a few twists in their approach to what music is and how it should be heard positions Radiohead at the top of the experimental pack, yet here the marriage was rocky from the first sound cue. Tracks were chopped to fit choreographic movements, rendering Thom Yorke's magnificently haunting voice, the tone of which screams emotion from its quietest points, semi-useless. Eighty percent of the tracks used were instrumentals, which although exquisite (Radiohead can do no wrong in my eyes – subjective I know) belied the power of that well known voice and just how strongly it would have worked with the movement and essentially rendered the ‘Radio’ part of the title irrelevant. Surely a huge part of presenting this particular piece is capturing a wider audience than ballet traditionally pulls, and most of us would have been sold at the mere thought of that remarkable voice resonating in a theatre; not using it, and its emotional savvy to full effect, is thus a lost opportunity. Even the instrumentals weren’t allowed to reach full crescendo, as like the dancing itself, the music was ‘choppy’ and the full peak of the force of both thus doesn’t reach the audience.
In a powerful open air setting I can imagine Marko Japelj’s set would soar in their clever simplicity. In a proscenium arch theatre, the set looked lost. Effective, but lost. Leo Kulas’ costumes were striking, but nothing that any ballet audience hasn’t seen or imagined.
Utilizing just seven dancers within the larger company is a striking move, especially as six of the seven were male. Traditional ballets allow minimal showcasing of the male demi-soloists and corps de ballet, so to be able to watch these six, predominantly somewhat newer members of the company, was exquisite for audience and dancers alike. Principal Matthew Lehmann was a stand out, even though he was not Romeo… or was he? Juliet's actions made it difficult to distinguish her true love from the other characters, part of the rewrite of the tale. Brooke Widdison-Jacobs shone as Juliet. Every movement was performed with strength and precision and the clean lines of the costumes emphasised every muscle and placement.
WA Ballet suffers from 'over traditionalising' traditional ballets, possibly as a means of catering to the relatively few ballet masses that exist in this city, but the re-staging of Radio and Juliet outside of the usual contemporary season will hopefully inspire new audience and new masses to the art form. This is a safe, pleasant version of contemporary ballet that wont polarize anyone, yet didn’t quite reach its full potential to inspire.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Radio and Juliet
West Australian Ballet
His Majesty's Theatre, Perth
14 – 22 September 2016